Friday, February 14, 2014

The Myth of Jesus

Chapter Nine
A Lord and his Man
We have now arrived at the ultimate revelation - the understanding that Jesus had to have originally been conceived as a pre-existent divine being named Man or His Man.  Most New Testament scholars who take an interest in Aramaic seem to presuppose that Jesus 'must have been' a Jew speaking the language that they have taken decades mastering.  What else could reasonably explain the association with Judaism?  Of course these people typically aren't Jewish themselves or have very limited exposure to what strange and wonderful ideas Judaism is capable of producing.  As such their prejudices directly limit their presuppositions.  They aren't even aware that their ignorance about what is possible within this cultural milieu. 

When for instance we see Justin Martyr point to Exodus 32:20 - 21 as proof that a 'second power' existed in heaven he is acting in a thoroughly Jewish or Samaritan manner. 

Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice, do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgressions; for my name is in him. Exodus 23:20-21

The mental contortions that members of the existing orthodoxy have made to deny the obvious - namely that there are 'two powers in heaven' only clouds the issue.  In the end this pre-existent tradition must have been the source for the habit of identifying איש with the ΙΣ in the earliest Christian manuscripts.

In the rabbinic literature similarly R Nachman (b 320 CE) taught that the angel of whom God spoke in Exodus 23:20 - 21 was Metatron (מטטרון).  Modern scholarship identifies this name with the word that appears in the Greek translations of the Genesis account of Enoch - that he was 'taken up' by God.  It has been shows that the first three letters of this verb μετέθηκεν or μετετέθη developed into Metatron demonstrating in many ways our איש with the ΙΣ only in reverse.   Metatron became the most familiar way of preserving knowledge about the second power in heaven.  Nachman warned however that this knowledge was very dangerous if left in the hands of the unskilled. 

Yet these sort of arguments should always strike us as dishonest.  They are designed for little more than preserving a particular point of view against - well - the truth.  Nachman says that only one who has been trained in the task refuting heretics, as a certain R Idit was, should hope to engage them on the subject of these scriptures.  Otherwise, the unspoken implication seems to be, the heretical interpretation of these passages might well be accepted by the devotees.

We don't know much about this Idit.  It isn't clear when he lived or where he was active.  Nevertheless he is recorded as having had an important debate with a heretic where the orthodoxy didn't come out looking foolish.  Nachman tells the story that once a heretic asked Idit why Exodus 24:1 says, “And to Moses He said, ‘Come up to the Lord.’”  He was obviously pointing to the fact that God should have said, “Come up to Me” if he was Lord.  He says 'to the Lord' according to the heretic because there were more than one power in heaven. 

Idit meritorious handling of this textual problem is in meeting the heretic half way.  He acknowledges that the person speaking to Moses was a second power - the angel Metatron - but in a manner very similar to Irenaeus among the Christians it is understood that this power was something less than another god in heaven.  Idit says that Metatron’s name is similar to that of his Master and he points to the numerological value of the names Metatron (מטטרון) and Shadai (שַׁדַּי) in Genesis 17:1 and elsewhere and says effectively - 'you see, despite the appearance of a second power there is still only one god in heaven.'

It is here that Idit goes back to Exodus 23:21 - that favorite of the 'heretics' including Justin Martyr - and says, “for my name is in him” means that God and the angel are essentially one and the same power.  Of course this is really a terrible argument on so many levels it is difficult to know where to start.  Without getting too deeply into the name El Shadai, the early second century Greek translator of the Bible Aquila renders the name 'the sufficient god' which clearly implies a lesser status to the being of this name.  Moreover in our discussion in the last chapter we saw that the Church Fathers like Clement pointed to this very same passage as another place where Jesus 'appeared' in the Pentateuch. 

The heretic in the debate Idit has a unique response of his own.  Nachman tells the story that he retorted that Exodus 23:20 - 21 suggests that we should worship this other power.  This in turn opens up a whole new debate about how the second power in the passage should be treated.  Should he be revered or should all praise be given to one God?  The heretic apparently read Exodus 23:21 “Be not rebellious against him” to mean that we should acknowledge him in our prayers.  However Idit does not agree. He replies that we should read the text rather differently that God meant, “Do not exchange Me for him” (as the word for “rebel,” (תַּמֵּר, tamir) derives from the same root as the word “exchange”). 

Moreover the heretic seems to harbor Christian assumptions about the second power having the power to forgive sins from the same passage.  Idit of course rejects that interpretation and claims that what follows in Exodus 23:21 should be read instead - “he will not pardon your transgression” meaning the second power can't forgive sins or doesn't have the authority given from God.  Yet it should be readily apparent that this is a forced interpretation of the passage.  The heretic and his adherents would have been unlikely to have been swayed by these arguments no less than the community associated with Idit would have been swayed by the other side to give their devotion to any other being than Yahweh even though there are clearly descriptions of the Patriarchs venerating other names and other powers. 


As we have just noted 'Metatron' is a late Jewish invention to cloud the waters about the other power in the Pentateuch.  There is no reference to 'Metatron' anywhere in the Bible.  It is an artificial creation that developed from the Greek translations of the Bible.  The Samaritans by contrast never went strayed far from the original text of the Pentateuch and were forced to avail themselves of the different names and titles of the as it appeared in the original narrative in a desperate attempt to obscure the fact that their איש was once connected to the god of Christianity.  Indeed if we are to look closely at the surviving Samaritan liturgy and its collection of hymns in particular we see that it acknowledges going back to a new religious movement which has rejected what has gone before and sees itself as returning from a brief period of heresy to orthodoxy.

This historical context is essential for viewing all the writings - not just the hymns - associated with Mark in this culture.  The content of what was once one of the foundation documents of the previous movement, now seen as a heresy, has been kept, but this content has been re-edited and new sentiments of contrition have been inserted here and there. The venerable name associated with the original form of the document has been kept, and rightly so, since it remains mostly his work.  As such when we read what passages itself off as Mark's treatment of Exodus 23:20 in the exegetical writings we are left wondering how much is original and how much has been changed:

Let us now be in awe at the speech presented by the ANGELS, also by the GLORY. The GLORY said 'The great name is within me and I do not shun him who is rebellious in action. When a man deviates, I forfeit him, and thus it is said of me 'For he will not pardon your transgression for my name is in him" (Ex. 23.21)

The ANGELS also were saying, 'O congregation, hold fast to your Lord and serve in faith, for in our hands is salvation, in our hands destruction, in our hands relief, in our hands weariness, in our hands killing, in our hands love. All this in our hands! Keep guard of yourself and learn the Way of the True One. You need not enquire what we have done from Adam to Noah, with Abraham and Lot, with Isaac and the people of Sodom, with Jacob and Joseph and the great prophet Moses in all that he did.

We were with Adam; we magnified his original status. With Noah we appeared and we honoured him. With Abraham we were when he proclaimed. So with Isaac in his being increased in goodness and we met Joseph too in a group. We were sent only to those good, perfect ones. You need not enquire about the deed of Lot and the people of Sodom, for they appear (in Scripture) before you. If you seek knowledge of what they possess come to Jacob. On the ladder of his dream we were ascending and descending and the Glory was standing above it. A great Blessing was proclaimed (Gen 28.13 ff). In his sojourn with Laban and the meeting with Esau we advised him, and the Glory magnified him and blessed him in the Yabbok and at Luz, and announced to him the coming in and the going out and all this was perfection to him and to his descendants after him, generation after generation.

If you maintain that high status, you will prosper in both world but if you deviate from the way of the True One, then what happened to the people of Sodom will happen to you. Thus the True One wrote " An overthrow like that of Sodom and Gomorrah" (Deut 29.23 Targ).

We shall come and bring it about and we shall not appear before exceedingly great judgment is wrought - a judgment with no lack!"

Great is the Powerful One who makes us witnesses. Let us bear witness to the truth before the True One, and be upright in every deed - deed without defect, wholly pleasing.

The Glory too seemed to be saying "O congregation, keep yourself from me, for is there not before me a mighty deed? I slew, I oppressed, I destroyed, I made alive, and with you I did all of this when I was at the sea and showed you every wonder and made you to cross with great marvels by the mighty power of God.

Observe these actions and apply your mind! Do not rebel from me or act against me. Do not be involved in evil that you may be magnified by your Lord and glorified by me, for I would make an end of you from the world of being (if you were to be so involved), and I would bring upon you all kinds of curses and put you in great affliction. If you discipline yourself outwardly and inwardly, secretly and manifestly, you will be in the world above, and a holy and select people. What was promised to your fathers will be effective for you, for our Lord is merciful and pitiful. Thus He described himself (Ex 34.6; Deut 4.31).

Let us give thanks and praise the Great One and worship His divinity and submit to Him at all times and love him always, for He is our Maker, Fashioner and Creator.

Let the mind understand that statement and hear it in great faith and reverence, and hasten to praise God to whom there is no like. Nothing exists forever but His power - perchance glory may continue for us! He will deliver us from the present evil, for He gives relief to those who love Him and He remembers them. Let us say with fear and reverence "there is only one God!" [Mimar Marqe 3.5]

While the overall sense of the material is made to fit a similar sort of monarchianism as the parallel Jewish and Christian traditions it is impossible not to note the ambiguity inherent in passages like these.  Who is the 'True One'?  Is it Yahweh or the angel?  Certain portions of this citation make it plain that the angel here had a distinct role from 'God.'  We should take not of statements like the members of the community will be "magnified by your Lord and glorified by me."  One power 'magnifies' while the Glory power 'glorifies.' 

There is a consistent pattern of this sort of distinction in the Samaritan writings of Mark.  It is particularly pronounced in the Fourth Book of the Mimar which is devoted to explaining the 'Great Song' of Deuteronomy chapter 32 in distinctly Pauline terms.  Even according to what we might call the 'reformed monarchianism' found in the existing material there is the clear sense that an angel alternatively called 'glory' or 'Man' has the function of perfecting the sons of Adam.  The understanding is never made as explicit as it is found in early Christian writings.  The later editors have deliberately distanced themselves from the 'two powers' doctrine.  Nevertheless something of the original understanding remains buried within layer after layer or rewrites. 

There is very little point in rehashing the origins of the Christian interest in the Logos from Hellenistic Jewish sources like Philo of Alexandria.  So much has already been written about it that the sheer volume of information will tend to bog down the discussion in the particulars.  It is better to note that 'my name' (Shemah) in this Aramaic text becomes the Samaritan equivalent of the Jewish haShem.  They are each currently used by each tradition as substitutes for the Tetragrammaton yet it should be noted that the Samaritan usage is rooted in a passage which was used by heretics to prove the existence of a second power in heaven.  

Indeed the fact that Shemah has a numerological value of 345 never ceases to fascinate the Samaritan writers.  It is connected with Moses in more ways than one.  Not only does the name Moses have the equivalent value, Moses is himself referenced as being 'clothed' with the Name.  We read Mark declare that God said: "Moses, Moses," revealing that he would be vested with prophethood and the Divine Name (Memar Marqe 1.1); 'I have vested you with my Name' (Memar Marqe I.5); 'Exalted is the great prophet Moses whom the Lord vested with his Name' (Memar Marqa 2. 12). Moses was also vested with the Image which Adam had cast away in Eden (Memar Marqe 5.4)  As Jarl Fossum notes 'Image' no less than 'Name' is a Samaritan title of the second god. 

The point here is that there are such close parallels between 'the Man Moses' and the Man angel that one has to wonder how it is possible that 'my Name' or even 'the Name' was originally used simply as a substitute for the Tetragrammaton.  In other words, if Moses is 'vested' with the name, becomes the איש and yet still retains the capacity to act independently of Yahweh how are we to suppose that the situation was any different for the actual איש?  Surely as we have already seen the Samaritan tradition could envision this heavenly Man to function as a distinct entity in the very manner of Moses.  At the  very least we must begin to recognize that someone such as Mark or even Paul (assuming that they were separate people) had the opportunity to develop a narrative about a heavenly being named איש who was not tied to Yahweh and even acted in contradiction to his will. 

Indeed this is the very sense we get from the Marcionites when it is written somewhere in Tertullian's report:

Let me alone, and I will wax hot in wrath and destroy them, and I will make thee into a great nation. On this you (Marcion) are in the habit of insisting that Moses was a better person than his own God—deprecating, yes and even forbidding, his wrath: for he says, Thou shalt not do this: or else destroy me along with them. Greatly to be pitied are you, as well as the Israelites, for not realizing that in the person of Moses there is a prefiguring of Christ, who intercedes with the Father, and offers his own soul for the saving of the people. But for the present it is enough that the people were granted even to Moses in his own person. 

The typical manner in which scholars read the Church Fathers is so superficial that it is enough to drive one crazy.  The assumption always is that because writers like Tertullian proclaim that heretics like Marcion should recognize something, that it must be true that they did not recognize that 'fact.'  The idea that both traditions basically shared the same understanding only the Catholics were effectively 'straightening out the kinks' with respect to the implications of such doctrines on an underlying belief in monarchianism and monotheism, is never even considered. 

Most people simply have no clue the degree to which an underlying tension existed between Moses and Yahweh.  Such an understanding is present for instance in the rabbinic reports about God only establishing the ten commandments and the rest of the Torah was written solely on the authority of Moses.  This tradition is certainly known to the author of the gospel when he has Jesus declare "because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so."  The fact that Moses can indeed, in the example cited above by the Marcionites, challenge the edit of Yahweh necessarily has the greater implication that איש of if you prefer 'Jesus' arose at the end of time and declared an end to the entire authority of Jewish Law. 

This is the repeated sense that emerges from the reports that emerge about the Marcionites from Church Fathers in the East.  Eznik of Kolb for instance declares that the Marcionites understood Jesus to come "like a Lord of the Law he put a stop to the Law."  Moreover in the dramatic conclusion to the crucifixion, as Robert Casey notes in his monograph on the Marcionite gospel, Jesus is understood to

descended again, but this time in the form of his divinity, and accused the Lord of Creation of his death. The god was dismayed as he had not known until then that any other god existed, but Jesus said to him, "I have a case against thee and no one shall judge between us but thine own law which thou has written ... Didst thou not write in thy Law that he who kills shall die and they shall shed the blood of him who sheds blood? ... Now thou hast delivered thyself into my hands so that I may kill thee and shed thy blood as thou didst kill me and shed my blood. For I am more righteous than thou and I have done great kindness to thy creation." And he recounted all the kindnesses he had done. At this the Lord of Creation was confounded, and, pleading ignorance of the Stranger's existence, offered as amends to give Jesus all those who would believe in him to go wherever he wished. Jesus then departed and appointed Paul to proclaim the news that "we are bought with a price (1 Cor 6.20) and that all who believe in Jesus have been sold by the Righteous to the Good God."
This idea of a fully independent איש is only a modification by degree of the second power in the existing writings of Mark in the Samaritan tradition where this figure seems to be repeatedly connected with the 'glorification' of humanity.

If we consider that the gospel was undoubtedly written after the destruction of the Jewish religion we can imagine quite easily that the disgust with contemporary events may have led to the exaltation of the secondary power and a rethinking of the traditional association between Yahweh and his people.  The question must have been asked - did zealous religious observance cause the cataclysmic end of the temple?  Moreover we may even suppose that some openly asked whether it was divine will that assisted this turn of event.  Why so?  Clearly it must have been argued by Mark, to facilitate the establishment of a more perfect religion and so the myth of Jesus as liberated  manifesting his glory in the 11th hour before the year 6000 was born. 


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